Unbeknownst to many, at 700 Main Street, in one of Buffalo’s architectural gems, sits an artists’ Mecca of sorts. Formerly known as the Byers Building, the EMI Building’s six floors are occupied by budding and established artists, musicians, and dancers. Owner Harold Kopp has a long history with the building. His family purchased it in 1978 as manufacturers of fine jewelry who were in the business since the 1920’s. Kopp says, “Some of the best jewelry craftsmanship in the world came from Buffalo. At one time, Buffalo was the largest manufacturer of rings in the world.”
In 1998 Kopp purchased the building from his family. Kopp’s jewelry-making fed his artistic spirit, and although he is no longer in the business he has always maintained his enthusiasm for the arts. With the building located close to Studio Arena Theater, Kopp was very involved with the now defunct organization and rented to them 14,000 square feet of storage space. The EMI Building was also the home of the innovative and irreverent Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center from 1980-1993, which then moved to the Tri-Main Building before landing in Babeville.
According to Kopp, he and his building manager, Brian Wantuch, would like to see nothing but creative people in the building. At this time the first floor is home to Sinclair Unisex Salon and Barber Shop and Yar Moe’s Muse (see here), while the second floor houses a studio space for music production as well as a personal training gym owned by Chad Jakubowski. The third floor echoes with the practice sessions of up to 30 local bands. On the fourth floor sits a photo studio as well as the offices of local band Pentimento. Artists and piano studios take up space on the fifth floor, while dancers pirouette throughout a rehearsal hall on the sixth floor.
It was on the third floor where Ryan (Rex) Keppel shared a rehearsal room with the emo/pop punk band Pentimento (apparently, all the kids love them, and please don’t be offended – at my age everyone is a kid). At some point Keppel took on some administrative responsibilities with the band and eventually played a management role as well, touring along with them in a van across the country for two years. Upon their return to Buffalo they needed a larger rehearsal space and found one available on the same floor, though filled with props and stage remnants from Studio Arena and Shea’s Buffalo Theaters. They were told to trash the old relics, but wisely Keppel knew better and saved the treasures that he found.
Meanwhile on the first floor sat the former Buzz coffee shop, technically at 698 Main. Keppel recognized potential in the space as a hang out for the building’s arty group, but saw a possible draw for theater goers as well. His vision was to create a comfortable space where people could enjoy a glass of wine or beer, or a great cup of coffee along with a bite to eat after rehearsing upstairs or before seeing a show in the city’s theater district. His years on the road with Pentimento gave him the opportunity to visit a lot of café type venues. He brought back with him the concepts of the “top 10” in his opinion, to design Matinee on the first floor of the EMI Building.
Combining efforts with his high school friend Kevin Shanahan, the Hutch Tech alums have created what they feel will be a comfortable and intimate space for an imaginative crowd. They plan to play the operative roles of the business with Shanahan as bar manager and Keppel as chef, but they will employ help exclusively from their artist friends within the building. It is important to both of them that the people who work there have a real attachment to the place, with Pentimento lending hands whenever they are in town.
The space is warm and cozy and will accommodate a 49-person maximum capacity, which is exactly what the duo wants to become the type of meet-up spot before a show in the theater district, or to grab a drink after rehearsal. They have filled the 1,500 square feet with their finds from the storage room. You will find old costume trunks, hat boxes, stage props throughout, and the royal blue stage curtain from Studio Arena as the backdrop of the bar.
And the bar, let’s give that some discussion. Hutch Tech engineering skills came into play as the design of the bar unfolded. Some drawings were found among the “junk” in that wonderful storage room on the third floor. Old stage plot diagrams resembling architectural drawings were rendered and distributed to actors back in the day in order to assist in the production of plays. Keppel and Shanahan recognized the beauty and relevance of them and they now adorn the top of the bar with the opulent stage curtain behind, just begging you to sit and imbibe.
The main area of the space invites you in with a welcoming fireplace and oversized leather seating as well as tables and chairs from the Town Casino, now known as the Town Ballroom. Between the bar and main sitting area is a screening space where short films by local film-makers will be shown.
Between the bar and main sitting area is a screening space where short films by local film-makers will be shown.
No prior arrangements necessary, people are welcome to bring their work with them, but prior notice would obviously be helpful with more information forthcoming once operational. A back sitting room holds a large courthouse bench and piano where they imagine pianists will be happy to linger and entertain. Along the walls are hung various theater playbills as well as a framed diagram of a theatrical clothing storage room. A nice spot to hang out.
Located in the heart of the theater district, theater goers will be pleased to have a convenient spot to visit before a show as a means of beating the parking madness that can ensue, or to avoid the traffic afterward. Personally, as someone who works downtown, I am looking forward to sipping a glass of wine after work in a friendly and more personal atmosphere, where discussions will most certainly take a turn to the cultural aspects of our wonderful and eclectic city. This venue is something that Main Street is truly ready for.
Matinee is expected to open the first week of April. At the onset they will serve small plates, but with room to expand, their long-range plans are to offer full meals within two years. Look for the theater mask in the window, branded and designed by Buffalo State alum Devin Jeffrey, and walk in to a theatrical treat.
If you are interested in artist space in the EMI Building, contact Brian Wantuch at (716) 390-3494. Follow Matinee on Facebook and Twitter at matinee698.
Matinee | 698 Main Street | Buffalo, New York | 716-359-2977